THE SANTA CLARA
November 3, 2016
Every good story needs a villain. In tennis’s case, it’s 21 year-old Australian Nick Kyrgios. Kyrgios went pro in 2013 and has made a name for himself by scorning all of the sport’s unsaid rules.
His wild, flashy brand of tennis caught the attention of fans and experts alike. However, Kyrgios’s temper has brought him much more press than his tennis skills. Example: He once told Stan Wawrinka that his girlfriend had slept with another man during a match. That type of trash talk is unheard of in tennis, a sport in which manners and tradition are the highest priorities.
A few months after the Wawrinka incident, Kyrgios pulled another stunt that rocked the tennis world. In the fourth round at the 2016 Wimbledon, Kyrgios was set to face Britain’s Andy Murray. One set into the match and those fans lost all hope. Kyrgios gave the first set to Murray and promptly decided he was done for the day, allowing serves to fly past him and refusing to make even the smallest of efforts to return Murray’s backhands.
Kyrgios is playing a game. He wants to make tennis cool again. His temper tantrums and outbursts are strategic in shaking up the tennis world. If he receives a fine or a suspension, so be it. All for the greater good.
The sport had its heyday in the 1970s and ‘80s, when John McEnroe was spitting curses at umpires and Andre Agassi was fixing his earrings and headband between points. It felt more blue-collar, more accessible to the average Joe who had previously been excluded from the elite, country club game. That inclusive attitude has since been retired.
Tennis’s elites like Sharapova, Federer, the Williams sisters and Djokovic ooze bourgeois. They aren’t from the wrong side of the tracks like Jimmy Connors; they didn’t scrape and claw their way to the top. And even if they had, they’d never let you know it. Tennis is about composure. Grunts are allowed, trash talk is not. And anyone who disrupts the peace is immediately labeled an outsider, a nuisance and an embarrassment.
Kyrgios knows this and continues to bulldoze his way into the spotlight. His bad attitude gets him press time and Twitter followers. If it weren’t for his trash talk and indifference of match outcomes, he’d be just another young player with promise.
Athletes become legends for two reasons: either you’re an outstanding, jaw-dropping, play-like-you’ve-been blessed-with-a-gift-from-God champion or you’re a countercultural, push every-button, test-every-boundary, love-to-hate-you villain. Kyrgios is a member of the latter community.
He’s taken the tennis world and shaken it by it’s starched white lapels, and hasn’t made a ton of friends in the process. Regardless, Kyrgios is here to stay, and he’s done tennis a big favor by creating a discussion about the unspoken rules of player conduct that need a major update. His behavior puts him on par with athletes like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Dennis Rodman; not always the most popular players but definitely ones that are hard to ignore. And, in the end, isn’t infamy better than anonymity?
Claire McLoughlin is a senior English major.